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Budget Battle Brews In State Capitol

Sarah Gamard/LSU Manship School News Service
Representative Cameron Henry (R-Metairie)

Louisiana lawmakers managed to avoid a steep drop in state revenue last year by passing a partial extension of a temporary hike in sales tax. But even with the fiscal cliff behind them, legislators are anticipating another budget battle this session. 

At the center of the debate is about $130 million dollars.

Governor John Bel Edwards' budget proposal, being carried by House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger (D-New Orleans), includes that $130 million.

House bill 103 seeks to spend those dollars on state priorities, including investing in higher education, stabilizing funding for the TOPS program, and ensuring we can pay for teacher pay raises and also support staff pay raises in the coming fiscal year,” explained Leger.

But in order for the Governor’s budget to become reality, a legislative stalemate with Republican leaders in the House will have to break.

Representative Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) leads the House Appropriations Committee.   He opposes Governor Edwards' budget plan, saying “the Governor’s budget proposes that we spend more money than we actually have recognized, than we physically have.”

State economists estimate Louisiana’s revenue will be about $130 million more than expected next fiscal year. But as of now, that money can’t be spent. First, it would have to be recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference.  Speaker of the House Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) has been the lone REC member to block the increased revenue.

Representative Henry has presented another option for next year’s budget that doesn’t include the $130 million.

“We do not have to recognize any more state general fund dollars for house bill 105 to advance," explained Henry. "We have all the money we need.”

Unlike the Governor’s plan, Henry’s budget does not include an increase in funding for higher education, K-12 education, or children and youth services. It would, however, provide a $1,000 teacher pay raise.

The budgets will be heard by the Republican-controlled Appropriations Committee during the session that begins Monday, April 8th.